Italian screen legend Franco Nero is having a busy year. “Recon,” the Robert Port-directed World War II thriller in which he stars, opened theatrically on Veteran’s Day in the U.S. as an event release and since then has been playing well online. German courtroom procedural “The Collini Case,” in which Nero has the title role, recently dropped Stateside on several platforms after scoring well theatrically in Germany. His Cuba set “Havana Kyrie” will also be coming out in the U.S. soon.
And Nero’s got plenty more projects in the pipeline including “Django Lives!” where he plans to reprise the role that brought him worldwide fame in Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 classic Spaghetti Western “Django.” On his birthday, the 79-year-old icon spoke exclusively to Variety from Rome, where he’s been stuck due to the pandemic, but was pleased to get flowers sent from England by his wife Vanessa Redgrave.
How was it acting in “Recon” with all these young hotshots: Alexander Ludwig (“Vikings”), Sam Keeley (“Dublin Murders”) and Chris Brochu (“The Vampire Diaries”)?
The actors were really great. We all became big friends. But the cold was a killer. The whole film is shot on a snowy mountain in British Columbia, and it was like 10 or 20 degrees below. I play an Italian who is taken hostage by these young American soldiers who force him to become their guide. They have to cross the mountain. They think he’s an enemy, but he keeps telling them: I’m not! I’m still in touch with the director Robert David Port, who incidentally is an Oscar-winner (for a documentary short titled “Twin Towers”).
You and Port have another project together called “Black Beans and Rice.”
It’s a great story written by Brandon Cole (“Illuminata”) whom I met in New York a couple of years ago. I loved the script, which I brought to Robert Port. We were all ready to shoot in Cuba, but we got blocked by COVID-19. It’s the same producer (Rick Dugdale) who did “Recon.” I told them: ‘I want to do it with my grandson Michael (Liam Neeson’s son by Natasha Richardson).’ It’s about a young man who’s a bit down and out. He goes to visit his Cuban mother on her deathbed in a U.S. hospital who tells him she wants her ashes scattered in the Cuban mountains where she was born and wants this to be done with his father, whom he hardly knows. The father is a trumpet player who plays in a small Cuban club. So then it turns into a road movie with the father, the son, and this other woman. It’s a very moving film
You recently did another film in Cuba where you play a crabby Italian maestro who reluctantly winds up in Havana to conduct the Cuban National Children’s Choir.
Yes, “Havana Kyrie” which will be coming out Stateside in January and has been making the rounds on the festival circuit.
Tell me about “Django Lives!”
Everything was ready to go, with plans to shoot in New Orleans, first in May, then in June, and then the world went on lockdown, so now we will see. Carolyn Pfeiffer (one of the producers) sent me a message the other day saying they are hoping we can shoot at the end of January 2021. New Orleans is where Tarantino shot “Django Unchained” (in which he has a cameo).
Carolyn, who is a friend, is the one who got John Sayles on board as screenwriter. The director is Christian Alvart (“Dogs of Berlin”), a top German director.
What’s the story?
It’s set in 1915 when in America they were opening the first movie studios where they did silent Westerns and they hired the real life heroes of the West like Wyatt Earp and Buffalo Bill as consultants. But Django is not one of them. He’s a very humble character. He makes friends with this Mexican, they leave the studio and go to this real town where there is a sheriff and a bunch of bad guys who are hooded white supremacists. Django is a quiet character whom they call the old man, or something like that. But he carefully watches everything that’s going on. At first he does a few shooting stunts, and everybody thinks: ‘he can’t hack it!’ But the great thing about the movie is that instead, although he’s old, he can still pull it off. At the end there is an amazing grand finale at a cemetery where the machine gun comes out (of a coffin) just like in the “Django” original. It’s like a Western within a Western.
Has Tarantino read the script?
Not yet. I am going to ask Quentin to do a cameo. But only when I am totally sure the film will start shooting. That’s because a couple of years ago I was supposed to do a film in Italy about kids and boxing with Enzo Castellari and Quentin told me: ‘Absolutely! I will do a cameo.’ Then the movie didn’t happen and he told me: ‘Don’t ever talk to me about a film unless you are 100% sure.’ There is an amazing cameo in this film of a film director character who has to do a scene involving actors on these beautiful horses. Django arrives with this little nag and then runs off with one of them. Anyway, when we are totally sure the cameras will roll I will ask him.